University News

Eco activist emphasizes culture’s role

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, March 13, 2012


“We take more than our share of the biosphere,” said Winona LaDuke, environmental rights activist, author and member of the Anishinaabe Nation, during a lecture in Salomon 101 last night. The lecture, “Seven Generations: The Intersection of Ecological and Indigenous Economics,” was opened by a Mashpee Wampanoag drum group performance and was the second in the “Catalyzing Conversations on Diversity” series sponsored by the Office of Institutional Diversity and supported by Native Americans at Brown and the Third World Center. 

LaDuke addressed the cultural problems the United States is facing with regard to sustainability.

In America, there is often a “commodification of all – the perception that everything is some tangible market economy,” LaDuke said. Instead of having an environmental economy based on cyclical patterns in nature, people see the environment primarily in terms of its use to humans, she said. 

LaDuke used the example of the waste industry to demonstrate the linearity and short-sightedness of most environmental thinking, taking issue with the idea of waste as a concept humans accept as a given. 

She also addressed the problems of non-renewable energy, dependence on oil, genetically modified foods, unsustainable crop growth and transportation practices. When populations rely on food products from distant sources, their oil dependency and reliance on outside sources increase and local economies suffer, she said. 

To counter these problems, LaDuke outlined the basic tenets of sustainability, which she has observed while studying indigenous practices. It is important to understand humans were the last to arrive on earth, she said. The ecosystem could survive without humans, but humans depend on nature, she said. Within the indigenous cultures LaDuke studies, people believe all beings are related and “most of our world is animate,” which she said leads to a sense of accountability for human actions that does not exist in an anthropocentric view.

Currently, LaDuke is working on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota to put into action sustainability initiatives to “regain control over food and energy,” she said. These initiatives include a movement to restore the growth of indigenous crops that can tolerate climate change, the construction of a wind turbine and the continual battle against the production of genetically engineered food. LaDuke is also active in national environmentalism efforts, serving as executive director of Honor the Earth, a Native American environmental rights organization.

It is important not to have a “frontier” state of mind, where one can move on to a different location if the first one is destroyed, LaDuke said. When making a decision, one must “consider the impact on the generation seven generations from now. You take only what you need, and leave the rest,” she said.

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